I typically stay away from opinion articles on my professional blog, especially in regards to something that is more controversial. The reason for this is simply because, as a healthcare practitioner, I do my best to view people and situations objectively. However, there has been a topic in the news this past week that opens the doors for discussion on important issues that are too often swept under the rug.
Many people are familiar with the TLC show 19 kids and counting. For those of you who are not, it’s a reality t.v. show about a Christian family that’s a part of the Quiverfull movement. Thier fans admire them for their “upstanding Christian values” and portrayal of a “wholesome” family.This past week, the oldest son, Josh Duggar has been under fire for molesting five girls. The following facts are from statements from the family and the police report. This incident has been confirmed from both Josh and his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.
Essentially, when Josh was 14, one of his victims came forward to Jim Bob and stated that Josh had been touching her while she slept. When confronted, Josh admitted to it. No action was taken until over a year later when Jim Bob discovered Josh coming out of his sister’s bedroom at night. He then sought counsel from a church leader. When it was suggested that Josh go to a therapeutic program designed for sexual predators, Jim Bob insisted it would unnecessarily put Josh in harm's way by putting him in contact with dangerous people. Instead, Josh was sent to live with a family friend for three months to help them remodel their home. Upon returning, a state trooper, who was later convicted for child pornography, gave Josh a stern talking to. No further action was taken. Josh was allowed to return to the home and a few years later the family went on national television. No such detailed commentary has been made regarding the wellbeing of his victims.
The police report wasn't filed until three years later when a source tipped of the producers of Oprah and they reported the claim. No further action was taken due to the claims surpassing the statute of limitations. The police report does indicate that most of his victims were his sisters ranging in age from five years old to twelve years old. The police report details incidents of Josh touching them on the breasts and vaginal areas when they were both waking and sleeping. One incident reports Josh touching a sister while she sits on his lap reading a story. Since then, Josh has been employed through the Family Research Council, a Christian lobbying group dedicated to protecting religious liberties (frankly, at the expense of the freedoms of others).
This includes utilizing emotional appeals and hate mongering to abolish abortion rights and equal rights for the LGBTQ community. Since these allegations have come into light, Josh has stepped down from his position with this group. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he and his parents have spent the last year publicly comparing gay people and transgender people to child predators in an attempt to sway voters regarding policies that would give them equal rights and protection. Many people are infuriated over this level of hypocrisy. While many people understand not wanting to air your dirty laundry, the Duggars have hypocritically portrayed their family has a wholesome group while demonizing others by likening them to the very criminal that existed under their own roof.
There is so much wrong with this situation, it’s a little difficult to know where to start. Why not start where this whole mess started. This family’s ideals are toxic. Everyone is ultimately responsible for their own actions, and Josh is no different. However, making sex into a taboo is dangerous. It teaches people to go against their instincts, it takes away opportunities for sexual education, and is shaming on many levels. Furthermore, they have patriarchal ideals: women are submissive to men.
The Duggars have indoctrinated their children and have ensured that indoctrination by isolating them from anything that might make them truly question their faith. They have also indicated that they use the Pearl method for child raising; its basic principle is built on the value of complete obedience at all costs. Even being unhappy or having an attitude is considered to be disobedient. So if the girls showed their suffering, it is very likely they were ignored at best and punished at worst.
The Duggars haven’t discussed what was done for the victims beyond that this brought them all “closer to God”. We do know that they use the ATI homeschooling curriculum and that ATI has a flyer to help families cope with abuse. This flyer says that everyone must recognize that the abuser damaged the least important part of a person (the body), which invalidates the victim's feelings and trauma. It further states that we must then determine who’s at fault for the abuse. Did the victim dress immodestly? Were they with the wrong kind of people? Were they engaging in inappropriate behavior? If the victim is not at fault, then they should be grateful for the opportunity the abuse gave them to enhance their spiritual power. This is victim-blaming at its finest. Nowhere does it discuss the abuser and their wrongdoing. Nowhere does it reinstate that it doesn’t matter what you wore, what you were doing, where you were, or what was said, the victim is not asking to be abused.
While we’re on the subject, there is an extremist viewpoint on modesty and not tempting the men. Ideally, someone should be able to wear whatever they want without getting labeled slut, or taken less seriously. A woman’s value doesn’t decrease with the clothes she wears. Her capabilities and contributions don’t disappear because she’s wearing short shorts and a crop top. We should give our men more credit. Just because a woman is showing some skin doesn’t mean their hormones take control and their rational thought has no voice. Giving them that excuse and putting the responsibility of “purity” on the woman’s shoulders is damaging for everyone involved.
The parents failed to protect their children, and they failed to get them the proper help. They didn’t encourage Josh to molest his sisters, but they created an environment where it could happen with little repercussions. Beyond that, they didn’t properly care for them after the fact. Their beliefs cater to Josh and what is best for him, not his victims.
I decided to write this article because I was appalled at the people jumping to Josh’s defense. They are saying that he was just a kid, it happened a long time ago and everyone needs to forgive him because God forgave him. That reaction is triggering for many people of sexual abuse because that reaction basically says that society is capable of making excuses for monstrous behavior and your protection is limited.
As far as we know, Josh doesn’t legally meet the definition for pedophile. A pedophile is an adult or older teen who is primarily (or exclusively) attracted to a prepubescent child, usually eleven years younger than them. Someone can be a pedophile without acting on that desire. Pedophilia is a psychological condition and does not inherently make someone a monster. Just because Josh isn't a pedophile, it doesn’t make his actions less serious. Many fourteen year olds, even incredibly sheltered ones, know that it is wrong to molest other people. His age does not excuse him or mitigate his actions.
What further concerns me is that he is painting this image of a person who made a mistake, knew they did wrong and sought help of their own accord. Molestation is a crime, not a mistake. Especially as it was often repeated for at least a year with multiple victims. Had he not gotten caught, he might not have stopped. Abusive dynamics do not typically end without interference. Painting this kind of image is an attempt to save face, not take responsibility for his actions or make amends for what he’s done.
His public statement is very much about him. He mentions he did wrong and he’s sorry. However, as I stated before, there was little mentioned about the wellbeing of his victims, and he ends his statement mentions “ I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life..” His life. No mention of how his actions could have continued to ruin the lives of other people. It’s self-centered to me, and it isn’t sincere or striking a semblance of a person who is truly aware.
What is Quiverfull? http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/what-is-quiverfull/
Duggar Family Responds to Molestation Accusations: http://www.people.com/article/josh-duggar-molestation-accusations-duggars-respond
Josh Duggar Police Report: http://www.bilerico.com/2015/05/heres_the_josh_duggar_police_report.php
The Pearl Method: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/authoritarian-parenting
The ATI Sexual Abuse Counseling Flyer: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2013/04/how-counseling-sexual-abuse-blames-and-shames-survivors/
What is Rape Culture? http://upsettingrapeculture.com/rapeculture.php
Warning Signs Your Child May Be Abused: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect.htm
Red Flags of an Abuser: http://themamabeareffect.org/1/post/2014/06/red-flags-of-child-predators.html
Our society uses victim blaming and normalizing male dominance to justify harassment, abuse, molestation and rape. This is all apart of rape culture. Rape culture is prevalent in today’s society when a woman can’t walk alone at night wearing a short skirt for fear that if something happens, she will be held responsible. It’s prevalent in the media whenever they gloss over sexual assault with terms like “sex scandal”, “sexual misconduct” or “inappropriate behavior”. It’s prevalent in the objectification of women in advertising.
The Duggars contribute to rape culture by projecting their ideals of pregnancy, sex, relationship dynamics, “good” girls, etc. onto the general public. The fact that Josh is at the center of the discussions regarding the molestations instead of his victims is proof of rape culture in our society. The question honestly shouldn’t be whether or not Josh should be defended. The fact that it’s even debatable is terrifying. It should be are the Duggar girls safe? Are the Duggar’s ideals damaging to their family and society as a whole?
What Can We Do?
I don’t want to post a list of problems with the world and just leave it at that. I want to end on a more powerful note. The facts are, sexual abuse happens more often than we think it does. It’s more common among fundamentalists, but it happens to all groups of people. Too often it gets swept under the rug or blamed on the victim. Too often people don’t receive the kind of help they need. So what can we do about it?
Education is key. I think some people are afraid that if you tell your children more about sex, you open their minds to it and they become promiscuous. The fact is, knowledge is power. The more they know, the less they feel inclined to find out about the hard way. People who are more educated about sex are more likely to have healthy relationships and practice safe sex. Giving your child knowledge and therefore power to understand their own body gives them confidence to speak up if something isn’t right. We can’t depend on schools to give our children this gift. We, as parents, need to do it ourselves, and we should do it ourselves. Children should have age appropriate sex education from the time they start asking questions and beyond.
We need to educate ourselves about the warning signs of child abuse and red flags to look out for in possible perpetrators (in family and strangers!). If something happens, we need to report it to the proper authorities as soon as possible. If it’s a family issue, we need to get the right kind of help for everyone involved. This means going to the police, going to therapists who specialize in these cases and doing everything in your power to reinstill a safe environment.
Beyond those things, we need to put a stop to rape culture. We need to stop blaming the victims and making excuses for the attackers. I often hear “boy will be boys”, but boys who act in a way that receives that statement think it’s ok to do so because society has made it acceptable. We need to re-examine masculinity and outdated gender roles. We need to have a strong universal understanding of what consent means because there are so many people that think it’s consent if the person is drunk, if they’ve said yes to sex before, or if they’re simply in a steady relationship. We need to spread awareness by sharing our stories to help us understand what society considers to be normal and how we can redefine it.
One Last Note
I feel so sad for anyone who has had to be on the receiving end of any kind of abuse, including those victimized by Josh Duggar. I truly wish the best for their family and that they heal in a healthy way. However, I don’t think they should be public figures because their views are irresponsible and facilitate rape culture. I do hope their show is permanently discontinued for this reason. If you suspect a child you know is the victim of sexual abuse, you can alert the authorities by calling the national child abuse hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).